"It's finesse, my boy, commercial finesse. Who's to trace it, I should like to know. I haven't worked out all the details--I want your co-operation over that--but here's a rough sketch of my plan. We send a man we can depend upon to some distant part of the world--Chimborazo, for example, or the Ural Mountains. It doesn't matter where, as long as it is out of the way. On arriving at this place our agent starts a report that he has discovered a diamond mine. We should even go the length, if he considers it necessary, of hiding a few rough stones in the earth, which he can dig up to give colour to his story. Of course the local press would be full of this. He might present one of the diamonds to the editor of the nearest paper. In course of time a pretty coloured description of the new diamond fields would find its way to London and thence to the Cape. I'll answer for it that the immediate effect is a great drop in the price of stones. We should have a second agent at the Cape diamond fields, and he would lay our money out by buying in all that he could while the panic lasted. Then, the original scare having proved to be all a mistake, the prices naturally go up once more, and we get a long figure for all that we hold. That's what I mean by making 'a corner in diamonds.' There is no room in it for any miscalculation. It is as certain as a proposition of Euclid, and as easily worked out."
"It sounds very nice," his son remarked thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure about its working, though."
"It must work well. As far as human calculation can go there is no possibility of failure. Besides, my boy, never lose sight of the fact that we shall be speculating with other people's money. We ourselves have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing."
"I am not likely to lose sight of it," said Ezra angrily, his mind coming back to his grievance.
"I reckon that we can raise from forty to fifty thousand pounds without much difficulty. My name is, as you know, as good as that of any firm in the City. For nearly forty years it has been above stain or suspicion. If we carry on our plans at once, and lay this money out judiciously, all may come right."
"It's Hobson's choice," the young man remarked. "We must try some bold stroke of the sort. Have you chosen the right sort of men for agents? You should have men of some standing to set such reports going. They would have more weight then."
John Girdlestone shook his head despondingly. "How am I to get a man of any standing to do such a piece of business?" he said.
"Nothing easier," answered Ezra, with a cynical laugh. "I could pick out a score of impecunious fellows from the clubs who would be only too glad to earn a hundred or two in any way you can mention. All their talk about honour and so forth is very pretty and edifying, but it's not meant for every day use. Of course we should have to pay him."
"Them, you mean?"
"No, we should only want one man."
"How about our purchaser at the diamond fields?"
"You don't mean to say," Ezra said roughly, "that you would be so absurd as to trust any man with our money. Why, I wouldn't let the Archbishop of Canterbury out of my sight with forty thousand pounds of mine. No, I shall go myself to the diamond fields--that is, if I can trust you here alone."
"That is unkind, Ezra," said his father. "Your idea is an excellent one. I should have proposed it myself but for the discomforts and hardships of such a journey."
"There's no use doing things by halves," the young man remarked. "As to our other agent, I have the very man--Major Tobias Clutterbuck. He is a shrewd, clever fellow, and he's always hard up. Last week he wanted to borrow a tenner from me. The job would be a godsend to him, and his social rank would be a great help to our plan. I'll answer for his jumping at the idea."
"Sound him on the subject, then."
"I am glad," said the old merchant, "that you and I have had this conversation, Ezra. The fact of my having speculated without your knowledge, and deceived you by a false ledger, has often weighed heavily upon my conscience, I assure you.